Editorial Note– Ms. Bexley said this story was inspired by an Asian long-term friend whose elderly mother suffered from an untreatable form of Parkinson’s Disease and now her friend is showing similar symptoms.
I would like to take a moment to introduce myself to you. My name is Kichi. My mother (okaasan) is Rui. When I was only three years old, my father left my mother for someone younger and richer. This is when we moved in with my grandmother (soba), Momoko, near Mount Kumotori in the Tokyo prefecture.
Before we moved in with my soba, she lived alone after my okaasan left for college. My soba’s husband died in a logging accident when my okaasan was only ten. For a time, it was just three of them: my soba, my okaasan, and her older brother, Genjo. Then uncle Genjo got married, and the two moved to Osaka to help with his wife’s family restaurant. Once mother went to college, she never returned to the forest until my father left her.
Growing up with my soba, I always found her to be odd. She had this peculiar way of walking, and her left arm would shake sometimes. My okaasan said it was nothing to worry about, and it resulted from a fall she had suffered.
When I was a teenager, soba began seeing yokai (ghosts or demons). She would get up during the night, make fried tofu and go outside looking for a fox lady. My mother would have to coax her back into the house. Some nights she’d get so upset that she’d wake up the neighbors with her screams.
At school, my classmates constantly teased me about my soba being insane or possessed by a kitsune (a fox spirit). Mostly, I ignored the taunts and poured myself into my studies. I wanted to be the best student to stick it back to everyone, despite my soba’s issues. The only problem, I couldn’t shake this feeling that maybe they were right. The reason behind her strange behavior could be because of yokai possession. That a kitsune was involved. After all, there were local legends of kitsune in the forests luring the loggers to their doom. My soba always said that’s how my grandfather died. My okaasan would angrily disagree, saying he became trapped under a pile of logs that fell on him. Now, with my soba acting the way she was, I didn’t know who to believe. Okaasan’s explanation was reasonable, but soba’s fit the lore.
When I was in high school, soba had increasing difficulty walking. She would have these shaking fits that would cause her to fall out of bed, or onto the floor, if she were standing. Her arm shaking had gotten worse and was occurring in both arms, making it hard for her to eat. This is when my okaasan had to quit her job to care for her. We depended on my soba’s pension and my uncle’s support until I surrendered my educational ambitions and began working at a convenience store.
This is also the time when soba cried out loud during the day for her son, my uncle. Over and over my mother would show her pictures of Uncle Genjo all grown up with his family. Soba would get angry and say that wasn’t him, increasing her demands to see him. This is when my mother came up with this trick of giving her valerian tea, which immediately caused soba to fall asleep.
When I finished high school, I thought I wouldn’t go on to college because my mother needed my income to help with soba. But then soba died, and my mother encouraged me to go on to college. As a result, I acted and did what was necessary.
I got a degree in Japanese Folklore and a teaching position in Tokyo. My okaasan was proud of my accomplishments, but I’ve become concerned. The last time I visited her in our family’s home in the mountains, I noticed she had an odd limp, and her right hand would shake occasionally. She claimed it was from a mini stroke she recently suffered from. I knew this wasn’t true because she never went to the hospital that was near the village. Which was even true when soba was alive.
All I could think of it was a family curse from a kitsune, and that one day I too may suffer the same fate no matter where I’m living. A curse passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. A valid reason never to get married and have children.
It was then I saved for both my own and my okaasan’s long-term care and funeral.
Read The E-JSD in the Substack app
Available for iOS and Android
Click Here To Go To E-JSD.